In the Cards is a monthly advice column by Carly Boyce, a queer and genderqueer femme witch based in Toronto. With a background in community-based sexual health, grief work, and suicide intervention, in addition to several years of tarot reading, she brings gentle advice and the wisdom of the cards to your questions about life, love, and feelings of all sorts. To submit a question, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Ask a Feelings-Witch. Questions will remain anonymous, and may be edited for length.
Q: Dear Feelings-Witch,
I’m trying super hard to reject the measuring-stick-at-the-ready world that I live in. It’s such a challenge though! I wrestle with questions of “am I queer enough?’’ or “do I take more than I give?” or “how would I even measure if I’m at all femme when so many folks are way femme-r and more fantastic?”
It’s easy enough to remind others that they’re exactly enough. That they’re good enough. That they have all the things they need to do the things they need to do… yet, I have this measuring stick always in my head, sizing up what shapes I am and what places I fit and what volume I am and at what speed.. It’s exhausting, and kind of sad! How can I toss that measuring tape away, tip over every scale that measures some form of balance, and worry less about what temperature I am? Please help!
A: Oh. Gentle reader. I hear you. We are taught at every turn to grade and evaluate, be graded and evaluated, most often against each other. We always find ourselves imperfect, and have a hard time tolerating imperfections in ourselves, even the exact ones we can forgive or even adore in others.
I am willing to bet that you wish this measuring stick would disappear, that you have shame and guilt for carrying it around even though you “know” that you “shouldn’t.” My first piece of advice for you, dear heart, is to breathe that shame out like a plume of fragrant smoke. You are not the only one with a measuring stick. It’s unique in ways, but we all have them. And trying to lock it in a box in your brain actually makes it more powerful.
Let’s have a chat with the cards, shall we?
Heart of the Matter: Mentor of Bottles/King of Cups
The Mentor of Bottles is the captain of her own little ship on the sea of feelings. She is wise, and generous with others. She knows where she wants to be and she is willing to weather whatever storms come her way to get there. Reader—you’re so tough on yourself and so tender with others. Like the Mentor, you don’t want to stop sailing in a clear and true direction, even if the weather of your heart says that you might need to adjust course. You are such a boss, especially at emotional generosity and care with others! You said right in your question that you have no trouble seeing these truths with others: you are enough. You are not too much. You have what you need. You matter.
Your determination is amazing, and it will take you far, but there are costs to being inflexible and unforgiving with yourself. I don’t wanna be alarmist, but there is a chance your boat could crash if you don’t take the signs around you seriously.
There is this Bob Newhart sketch about therapy. People come to see him and talk about a problem, and he listens for a bit, and then he just shouts “STOP IT!” The Mentor of Bottles would never treat her shipmates that way, but it is kind of how she treats herself. A tactic I use in trying to bring some more gentleness to my relationship with myself is this: when I feel myself doing that measuring/punishing stuff, I literally imagine that I am someone else that I love, coming to me and talking about the feelings I am feeling, and I think about what I would say to that friend if they were *not* me. Then I try to say those things to myself, even if they don’t feel true or fair or natural. It’s a way of trying to practice gentleness even when I don’t feel it. Being nice to yourself is a skill, and like anything, it gets easier with practice.
What to do: Mentor of Feathers/King of Swords
The Mentor of Feathers is a generous truthteller. He says it all, unvarnished. He knows that making himself visible this way has healing potential for him, and also that it can create examples and pathways for other people to do the same. Your people aren’t just listening to what you say to them, they’re watching what you do, including what you do for yourself. I want you to treat yourself nicely because you deserve it; but if that’s a hard place to get to, treat yourself nice because *other people* deserve it!
Faking can be a way into making. Acting “as if” is a powerful spell. Sometimes this card is about performance, like stand up comedy, or playwriting, or podcasting. If those don’t resonate with you, think about other ways that speech can be public: zinemaking, Twitter, street art, shouting into the void, or just talking with a few of your close people. This battle will be hard to win if you keep the conversation between you and yourself. You’re already reaching out by asking this question, so like, good work! And also think on more ways you want to share this struggle with your people. They might look at you with a kind of knowing, or have some footsteps you could try following in, or hearing about it might help them find the measuring stick they didn’t know was hiding in a corner of their brain, poking them quietly but persistently in the self-esteem.
I think there is another, subtler meaning to this card for you, dear one. I think you might need to have some conversations with this measuring stick. Instead of trying to lock it up, wish it away, or otherwise deny its voice, it might be time to engage with it. Imagine that you and this measuring stick are sharing a pizza and having a conversation. I have a few ideas about questions you might want to ask it/yourself, but feel free to improvise.
How long have you been here? How did you get in? Whose voice do you speak with? When I speak back to you, how old am I? What is the standard for your measurements? Where do those standards come from? How are they influenced by race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and family?
This stick will be with you for a while yet, but its stay will be much longer if you don’t attend to its needs. Sometimes these things get a little quieter when we give them space to speak.
What to think: Liberation/Judgment
This card is no small potatoes, gentle reader. This measuring stick is a big potato, and it needs your attention. Liberation is a card that’s about peeling away a layer of illusion or protection that you don’t need anymore, so you can become more authentically yourself. We are constantly doing this, but when Liberation shows up, it signifies a moment when you have an opportunity to step into your truth in a big way. This peeling can hurt! Walking around with a fresh layer exposed is scary and new. You’re ready though. Be brave (you already are).
In reference to revealing new parts of yourself, or seeing them in new ways, I also want to specifically address your struggle with whether or not you are femme, or want to identify as femme. Queers have a special and precious relationship with language, particularly language about our identities. We are constantly pushing at the edges of categories, claiming and reclaiming, revising and revisioning how to speak ourselves out loud, how to find others we relate to. For me, femme feels like home—maybe the only word that ever really does—and I still struggle define it. It can mean so many things to different people at different times, and our ideas about it are often wrapped in some sneaky, deep-down layers of internalized misogyny and femmephobia.
I think that if when you hang out with femmes, or think about femmes, or read the writing of femmes, or look at the instagram accounts of femmes, and you feel a glimmer of recognition somewhere inside yourself—then you can call yourself a femme. It’s okay if lots of it doesn’t resonate, or you don’t feel like you know it all, or have all the skills that go along with stereotypical femmeness. Femme is not (just) about fancy shoes and razor sharp eyeliner. Femme is about holding multiple truths. Femme is about seeing the parts of ourselves that have been maligned or erased or ignored, and once in a while, fucking decorating them. Femme is about an evolving lifelong relationship with body and pleasure and desire. Femme is about seeing how connected we are without erasing the places we’re different. Femme isn’t about flattening ourselves or flattering each other.
Femme is about all kinds of things, and it can be about you if that feels at all right for you. In this truly epic femme roundtable, artist YAT/TA says this: “femme just means that you’ve got some sensitivity that doubles as strength and you are down to aestheticize it, commune over it, or fucking fuck about it.” A really formative femme document for me is the Femme Shark Manifesto, written by genius healer (and lovingly snarky advice columnist inspiration) Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha. I also humbly recommend the Pajama Femme Manifesto by Katie Tastrom-Fenton, which also talks about chronic illness and fatness and femme. I want to also be super clear that femmes don’t have to also identify as women, and that femmes absolutely do not have to be cis. I don’t mean to say that you should or should not use this language to understand or explain yourself—you’re the only guy who gets to make that call —but I am giving you permission to try it on like a sparkly sweater and let yourself see if it feels like it could be yours, or maybe already it was.
What to be careful of: The Magician
The Magician is powerful; more powerful than they know. There is a note of narcissism in the idea that we as individuals can withstand far more than we would ever subject someone we love to. I think the Magician wants you to be humble in this process, to see your own tender parts and your wounds as part of what make you a magical, wonderful, healing presence in the world.
The Magician is also sometimes about transformative battles with strong adversaries, and my gut feeling about what that means in an avoidance position in this spread is that these cards want you to lean much harder towards collaboration than conflict or competition. If you can find a way to bring the measuring stick onto your team, as a complex and transforming part of you, rather than as an enemy you need to defeat, you’ll be more successful in making its influence less harmful to you.
These cards are all either Major Arcana or Kings/Mentors; this is a spread full of power and possibility. It sounds like you already know that you’re in a moment where shifting some of this stuff in yourself is really possible—if you can listen to your guts, speak your truth, let yourself be seen, and stay humble. I believe in you.